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Nick Richardson: ‘The Bestseller Code’

17 November 2016
... have sex and it is fun; then she learns about Grey’s ‘dark side’ and his ‘rules’; and so on. The plots of Stephen King, Jackie Collins, Dan Brown, Sylvia Day, Danielle Steel, Lee Child and James Patterson all, apparently, have a similar shape, and the curve of The Da Vinci Code is identical in its measuring out of highs and lows until the very end of the novel: Dan Brown finishes his book on ...

Travelling Southwards

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

19 July 2012
Fifty Shades of Grey 
by E.L. James.
Arrow, 514 pp., £7.99, April 2012, 978 0 09 957993 9
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... anyone without enough money to coat themselves in leisure had no place in a Krantz novel. There was something nouveau about the new bonkbusters that perfectly suited the times. A point made by Clive James in these pages in a review of Princess Daisy: ‘Mrs Krantz would probably hate to hear it said,’ he wrote, ‘but she gives the impression of having been included late amongst the exclusiveness ...

Masters of Art

John Sutherland

18 December 1980
Loon Lake 
by E.L.​ Doctorow.
Macmillan, 258 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 333 30641 4
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Alice fell 
by Emma Tennant.
Cape, 124 pp., £5.50, November 1980, 0 224 01872 8
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The Covenant 
by James​ Michener.
Secker, 873 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 436 27966 5
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Ancesteral Vices 
by Tom Sharpe.
Secker, 231 pp., £6.50, November 1980, 0 436 45809 8
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... by a housekeeping couple, the Paxtons (the name – associated with the most famous of English landscape gardeners – is presumably symbolically motivated). The Paxtons, in turn, are helped by Ella Grogan, the daughter of a local midwife and a gardener’s boy, William. All the characters in this hierarchy gain some narrative attention, but mainly it plays over the old man and the Paxtons ...
11 January 1990
Oxford History of the United States. Vol. VI: Battle Cry of Freedom, The Civil War Era 
by James​ McPherson.
Oxford, 904 pp., $35, June 1988, 0 19 503863 0
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Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 
by Eric Foner.
Harper and Row, 690 pp., $21.95, April 1988, 0 06 015851 4
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... be regarded, not so much as the great crisis of the very principle and possibility of the Union, but rather as an early difficulty that had to be overcome – one of the Union’s teething troubles. James McPherson, who has spent most of his academic life in the study of abolitionism and the related struggles of the Civil War era, has written a narrative history that comes as close to being both ...
28 September 1989
The Vision of Elena Silves 
by Nicholas Shakespeare.
Collins, 263 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 00 271031 5
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Billy Bathgate 
by E.L.​ Doctorow.
Macmillan, £11.95, September 1989, 0 333 51376 2
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Buffalo Afternoon 
by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer.
Hamish Hamilton, 535 pp., £12.95, August 1989, 0 241 12634 7
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The Message to the Planet 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 563 pp., £13.95, October 1989, 0 7011 3479 8
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... but necessary to the full understanding of fanaticism. But Shakespeare will have difficulty with British readers like myself – the majority, I suspect – for whom Peru is an unknown country. James Michener could brief us in a heavy-handed tutorial prelude on South American politics. But Shakespeare has chosen an artful form of narrative that cannot carry any great burden of exposition. I wish ...
5 March 2015
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies 
by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.
Norton, 306 pp., £17.99, January 2014, 978 0 393 23935 5
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Average Is Over: Powering America beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation 
by Tyler Cowen.
Plume, 290 pp., £12.99, September 2014, 978 0 14 218111 9
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... Automated Insights specialises in generating automatic reports on company earnings: it takes the raw data and turns them into a news piece. The prose is not Updikean, but it’s better than E.L.James, and it gets the job done, since that job is very narrowly defined: to tell readers what Apple’s results are. The thing is, though, that quite a few traditionally white-collar jobs are in essence ...
6 November 1980
Studies in English Linguistics for Randolph Quirk 
edited by Sidney Greenbaum and Jan Svartvik.
Longman, 304 pp., £18, September 1980, 0 582 55079 3
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... Coates, F.R. Palmer, R.A. Close, John Sinclair, Jan Firbas, Nils Enkvist, David Crystal, Jan Svartvik, Wolf-Dietrich Bald, Nelson Francis, Morton Bloomfield, E.L. Epstein, John Lyons, Archibald Hill, James Sledd, R.I. McDavid Jr, R.K. O’Cain, Linda Barnes, Josef Vachck and Barbara Strang. So varied as well as distinguished a gathering must surely prompt the reader to ponder upon what the editors call ...

Vicarious Sages

Michael Mason

3 November 1983
John Forster: A Literary Life 
by James​ Davies.
Leicester University Press, 318 pp., £25, June 1983, 0 7185 1164 6
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Mr George Eliot: A Biography of George Henry Lewes 
by David Williams.
Hodder, 288 pp., £12.95, June 1983, 0 340 25717 2
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Johnnie Cross 
by Terence de Vere White.
Gollancz, 153 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 575 03333 9
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... By a considerable coincidence there are now published within a short interval the first biographies of two substantial Victorian literary figures, over a hundred years after the death of either man. The coincidence is made more striking by the similarities between George Henry Lewes and John Forster. They were two of the stars of Victorian literary journalism: much in demand as editors, and absolutely ...

The Ultimate Novel

William Empson

2 September 1982
Ulysses 
by Hugh Kenner.
Allen and Unwin, 182 pp., £10, March 1982, 0 00 480003 6
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A Starchamber Quiry: A James​ Joyce Centennial Volume 1882-1982 
edited by E.L.​ Epstein.
Methuen, 164 pp., £9.50, February 1982, 0 416 31560 7
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... he is anxious about Stephen (124, 126, 145). Joyce himself would presumably laugh at Bloom here. His brother and his wife felt that they had only just managed to keep him from too much drink, but to James himself Kenner’s belief that Stephen cannot become a novelist because he has taken to drink would seem merely typical of Bloom. However, it is consistent that when Bloom sees Stephen being led away ...

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